Ways Republicans and Democrats have found common ground during contentious 2020 election

USA TODAY
·5 min read

In June, a conservative Republican majority in the Mississippi state legislature worked alongside Democrats to remove the Confederate battle emblem from its state flag. It was the last state to do so.

"It was something I knew in my heart for a long time was the right thing to do, and would come eventually," said Mississippi state Rep. Trey Lamar of Senatobia, who was among the first prominent Republican lawmakers to push for flag change legislation this year.

House Democratic leader Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez said the vote and the discussion that led up to it helped bridge racial divides in the Legislature. He said some of his white colleagues had begun "to understand and feel the same thing that I've been feeling for 61 years of my life." Read the story

Sen. Briggs Hopson, left, R-Vicksburg, is hugged by Sen. Robert Jackson, D-Marks, after the Senate voted to change the state flag June 28 at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss.
Sen. Briggs Hopson, left, R-Vicksburg, is hugged by Sen. Robert Jackson, D-Marks, after the Senate voted to change the state flag June 28 at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss.
City of Tupelo Community Outreach Coordinator Marcus Gary takes down the State Flag of Mississippi that flew over the City Hall of Tupelo one last time June 29. Mississippi is retiring the last state flag in the U.S. that includes the Confederate battle emblem.
City of Tupelo Community Outreach Coordinator Marcus Gary takes down the State Flag of Mississippi that flew over the City Hall of Tupelo one last time June 29. Mississippi is retiring the last state flag in the U.S. that includes the Confederate battle emblem.

The resolution of the decades-long controversy is not the end of the story. Indeed, it is just one example of how Democrats and Republicans, Black and white Americans, people of different generations and many, many others can bridge divides and solve problems.

Over the past year, Public Agenda and USA TODAY have joined forces on Hidden Common Ground, highlighting areas of public agreement on major civic issues such as health care, immigration and economic opportunity. Now, as voters begin heading to the polls for the 2020 election, we wanted to take that work one step further.

Hidden Common Ground: Challenging the narrative of a divided America

Across the country, USA TODAY Network reporters sought to identify ways individuals and elected officials are working across perceived divides – partisan, racial, religious or otherwise – to make a positive impact in their communities.

We are calling these examples “Strange Bedfellows,” not because they are odd in and of themselves, but because, collectively, they run counter to the narrative of a hopelessly divided nation.

Beyond high-profile efforts such as the decision to revamp the Mississippi state flag, we found people in dozens of communities working to address the kinds of racial divisions highlighted in the wake of the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga. and Breonna Taylor in Louisville at the hands of police.

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Bipartisanship at the state level

In Iowa, Democratic and Republican lawmakers swiftly found areas of agreement on police misconduct in a bill that passed just 17 days after Floyd was killed.

Iowa state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who managed the bill in the House, said Republicans were ready to send a message that Iowans could find common ground on those issues.

On June 12 at the Iowa Capitol, Gov. Kim Reynolds signs bipartisan legislation banning most police chokeholds and addressing officer misconduct. Protesters and other civil rights advocates had demanded legislation to address police violence. The Legislature introduced and approved the bill and the governor signed it in the span of two days.
On June 12 at the Iowa Capitol, Gov. Kim Reynolds signs bipartisan legislation banning most police chokeholds and addressing officer misconduct. Protesters and other civil rights advocates had demanded legislation to address police violence. The Legislature introduced and approved the bill and the governor signed it in the span of two days.

“It was important for us as Iowans, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, to show the rest of the country that we can work together on this,” he said. Read the story

That’s just one example of state lawmakers finding common ground. In Oregon, Millennial lawmakers came together across partisan lines to address common generational challenges such as helping their peers tackle student loan debt; in Wisconsin, one issue bringing lawmakers together is youth mental health.

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Addressing community challenges

Katrina Tarton, 31, completed an HVAC fast-track training through CareerEdge at Suncoast Technical College.
Katrina Tarton, 31, completed an HVAC fast-track training through CareerEdge at Suncoast Technical College.

In Florida, an effort bringing business and non-profit leaders together resulted in a fast-track job training program to address labor shortages in high-demand fields such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning maintenance. The programs were created after community leaders realized the need for affordable training programs in the building and maintenance trades that allowed students to continue working during the day.

“That’s where you’re bringing everyone together toward a common goal to help someone be able to improve their lives. They’re able to earn higher wages, and that’s economic mobility," said Mireya Eavey, executive vice president of CareerEdge, a nonprofit funding collaborative in Sarasota, Fla. Read the story

Other community-based efforts are promoting cross-cultural understanding, enhancing civic dialogue and supporting fair local elections.

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The faithful come together

Two Rabbis and an Imam traveled together on a trip to the Holy Land – and their obvious camaraderie came as a surprise to some who encountered them. But for Rabbi Vered Harris, Rabbi Abby Jacobson and Imam Imad Enchassi of Oklahoma City, the overseas trip was one of many positive outcomes of their effort to find common ground.

Rabbi Vered Harris, spiritual leader of Temple B'nai Israel, left, on the grounds of her temple, along with Rabbi Abby Jacobson, spiritual leader of Emanuel Synagogue, right, and Imad Enchassi, senior imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, middle.
Rabbi Vered Harris, spiritual leader of Temple B'nai Israel, left, on the grounds of her temple, along with Rabbi Abby Jacobson, spiritual leader of Emanuel Synagogue, right, and Imad Enchassi, senior imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, middle.

"I think it's because we live what our religious traditions teach and at the end of the day, our religious traditions teach compassion, they teach sacred listening, they teach all people are created in God's image," Harris said. "And so I think at the end of the day it works because we respect one another — one another's traditions, one another's outlooks — and we see the good that we each are doing in our own way for similar goals. Different paths, but the same goals."

Read the story

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Commentary

As the nation emerges from a contentious election, a brutal pandemic and a cratered economy, Will Friedman, president of Public Agenda, believes Americans have the innate capacity to resist the forces of division and begin the task of building a stronger democracy. David Mathews, president of the Kettering Foundation, says pragmatic problem-solving illuminates the space between agreement and disagreement on explosive issues.

The USA TODAY Network is reporting on these “Strange Bedfellows” as part of Hidden Common Ground, a key component of USA TODAY’s unique local-to-national coverage of the 2020 presidential election. HCG 2020 is spearheaded by Public Agenda and USA TODAY, with The National Issues Forums (NIF), Ipsos, and the America Amplified: Election 2020 Public Media Collaborative. The project is supported by a diverse group of foundations, including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The Kettering Foundation is a research partner of the initiative.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ways Republicans, Democrats are working together amid Trump-Biden race